A main event that many thought was a mere tune-up for the undefeated bantamweight champion, Juan Manuel Lopez, turned into the fight of the year.
Lopez was able to outlast but barely win a unanimous decision over the valiant Rogers Mtagwa in one of the best fights of the year. Lopez was seriously hurt at the end of Round 11, almost got knocked out in the 12th, and came within seconds of having all his big future plans laid out by his promoter, Bob Arum, thrown out the window.
Time was Mtagwa’s only enemy at the end as he had Lopez badly hurt and stunned for most of the 12th round and was within inches from knocking Lopez out but time ran out.
"He was definitely hurting me but I never felt like I was going down," Lopez said. “He was catching me with some good punches. I think the 11th round he really hurt me and I was never really able to recuperate. The 12th round was all heart. I get hit like everyone else. But I'm resilient."
Lopez seemed to have control the first half of the fight as he was able to land more punches but as the rounds went on, Mtagwa’s unorthodox style was starting to make Lopez’s life in the ring very difficult. He started to brawl with Lopez and turned the boxing match into a street fight. When that started to happen, Lopez was starting to lose rounds.
“He was throwing punches from everywhere. It’s very hard to prepare for a guy like that,” Lopez said. “I had a very hard time to get into any kind of rhythm but you have to give the other guy credit. He showed a lot of heart. It is very hard to fight a guy who has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Mtawba came into this fight with a very unimpressive record of 25-12-2 and was seen as a stepping stone for Lopez who is looking toward a big featherweight title with Yuriorkis Gamboa, who looked very impressive in his fight with his electrifying speed. But Rogers was the one at the end that looked to have deserved a title shot. His toughness and relentless pursuit of Lopez made it one of the best boxing performances I have seen this year.
Lopez did a good enough job to keep Mtagwa away as Lopez scored a questionable knockdown in the fifth round ruled by referee Eddie Cotton and appeared to have two in the first round that were ruled slips. But after Round Six, Lopez could not push off Mtagwa so easily anymore.
By Round 10, Rogers was stalking Lopez down like the Predator and was landing some heavy duty power shots. He landed some big rights that hurt Lopez bad and had him backed against the ropes in the 10th round. But it was Rounds 11 and 12 that showcased Mtagwa’s heart and power. He sent Lopez staggering into the ropes at the end of the 11th round. Lopez only avoided a knockdown because he grabbed the ropes to keep himself upright.
Lopez, who was still hurt from the end of the 11th round, knew that he needed to survive three more minutes and that it would be the longest of his career. Mtagwa was all over Lopez.
Juan Ma did everything he could to stay on his feet but barely did. He had no defense and could barely hold on and looked at one point to be leaning his head on the top rope as if he was trying to rest during the 12th round onslaught from Mtagwa.
The compubox numbers tell the whole story from the last two rounds as Mtagwa had a 62-34 edge on power shots landed in Rounds 11 and 12. In the 12th round, Mtagwa landed 36 punches to Lopez’s nine.
"The last round I was very tired, really tired," Mtagwa said. "He's not a strong puncher but he's a good fighter. In the 12th round I see in his eyes that he is finished."
The judges did not see enough action from Mtagwa early on to give it to him as the judges had it scored 116-111, 115-111 and 114-113 all in favor for Lopez. I had it 114-112 for Mtagwa.
A rematch should be a no-brainer and something that the boxing fans deserve but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
"It was a very close fight, a good fight. Why not a rematch? I don't believe he won the fight," Mtagwa said.
Arum has already planned for a Jan. 23 card to air on HBO that would have Lopez face either Celestino Caballero or featherweight titleholders Steven Luevano or Elio Rojas. The plan is for Caballero but according to Arum, they are playing hardball.
"Caballero's people are being very difficult with the amount of money they want for the fight," Arum said. "We've offered him 150,000 and if he doesn't want it, that's fine."
Arum big plan is to have Lopez face off against Gamboa but warns that if Lopez fights like he did tonight against Gamboa, it won’t end as happily.
"I thought Lopez fought a stupid fight," Arum said. "He can't fight a stupid fight against Gamboa. I give this Mtagwa kid credit, though. He stayed in there and didn't get discouraged and at the end had 'Juanma' reeling, so you have to give him props. 'Juanma' didn't have to make it that difficult. Juan Ma should have boxed more and stayed on the outside. If he does that, he would have killed him.”
In the other main feature of the evening, Yuriorkis Gamboa had a far easier time in his supposed “tune up” bout as he stopped Whyber Garcia with a fourth round TKO to retain his WBA featherweight title.
With his amazing speed and power, Gamboa (16-0,14 KOs) showed why he is one of boxing’s fastest rising stars and hopes to land a big money fight with Juan Manuel Lopez. He took one big step toward that fight with a very impressive performance.
"A lot of people ask me if I want that fight and my straight answer is I want to prove I am the best in the world," Gamboa said. "Whoever thinks they are better than me, I want to fight them."
Ahmet Oner, Gamboa's co-promoter added that "There have been discussions about fighting Juan Manuel Lopez. Why not? We'll take him."
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist Gamboa was simply too much for Garcia, as Gamboa's speed was something out of this world and Garcia knew he did not have a chance.
After three rounds of Garcia doing his best to cover himself up, Gamboa finally broke through in the fourth round when he nailed Garcia with a left hook that sent him to the canvas face-first and looked as if he was dead on the ground.
Garcia (22-7, 15 KOs) made it to his feet, but it was only a matter of time until the fight was over. Gamboa went after him and bulled him into the ropes, where he was landing shot after shot before the referee stepped in at 58 seconds of the fourth round.
Gamboa’s performance was one-sided as he landed 71 total punches to Garcia’s 13.
After the fight, Gamboa made it clear that he does not think of Juan Ma and certainly could not have been shaking after watching Lopez struggle big time in his fight.
"I don't think Juan Manuel Lopez is better than me," Gamboa said. "He's not a challenge for me. If we fight, I will show that. I think I should be the one carrying the card with Lopez because I am a better fighter than him. He's not better than me. Look at our records. Look at our amateur records. I was better than him in the amateurs and I am better than him as a professional."
After Lopez’s fight, he quickly dismissed Gamboa’s words from earlier.
"Let's see him knock out Mtagwa," Lopez said. "I'll knock Garcia out like he did. Let's see what he can do with Mtagwa."
Looks to set up a very nice fight, but can they get there first?
Odlanier Solis (15-0, 11 KOs) knocked out Monte Barrett (34-8, 20 KOs) at 1:54 of the Second Round. Bob Arum says that he would put Solis against any heavyweight except Vitali Klitschko. He feels he can knockout Wladimir. I can’t say I really disagree with Bob as Solis looks like a monster and his short left hook to knock Barrett down was one of the most impressive short left hooks I have ever seen.
Pawel Wolak defeated Carlos Nacimiento when Nacimiento quit on his stool after the fifth round. It was a real blood bath as Wolak looked great in punishing his opponent.
Middleweight John Duddy (27-1, 17 KOs), the New York-based Irish brawler with a custom of bleeding, was indeed dripping blood from his nose barely a minute into the first round, but it didn't stop him from cruising to an eight-round decision against Jorge "Michi" Munoz (21-4, 13 KOs), of Topeka, Kan.
Junior featherweight Jorge Diaz (10-0, 6 KOs), a Jersey City product with tremendous crowd support, gave the fans something to cheer about as he put Yan Barthelemy (8-2, 1 KO) to sleep with a massive left hook at 1:07 of the sixth and final round.
Cruiserweight prospect Carlos Negron (5-0, 4 KOs), went the distance and easily won his four-rounder against Larry Pryor (4-5, 2 KOs). Negron took it to Pryor and won with scores of 40-36 and 39-37.
Welterweight Omar Chavez (18-0-1, 13 KOs), son of Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez, took a lot of punches but easily outpointed James Ventry (7-10-1, 4 KOs) over six hard-fought rounds.
In an upset on the first fight of the night, lightweight Martin Tucker (7-4, 3 KOs) beat Michael Torres (13-1, 7 KOs) in a six-round decision. Tucker knocked Torres down twice and won 57-56 on all three scorecards.